A conservation officer took Slocan Valley farmers to task after the death of three grizzly bears this fall, like the one pictured. But Susan Milton says that’s unfair. Black Press file photo

LETTER: Castlegar Conservation officer’s comments missed the mark in grizzly bear death

Passmore farmer says she’s been subjected to rude, derogatory comments

Statements made by Conservation Officer Blair Thin in a recent article regarding grizzly bears (“Conservation officer says farmers not doing enough after three grizzlies killed,” Nov. 8) were misleading, omitted key details of the situation and were highly offensive to myself and other members of the Passmore community.

After a week of carnage, terror, loss of poultry and damage to infrastructure, his complete and utter disregard for our emotional and financial loss was insensitive and unprofessional. His comments characterized us as backwoods irresponsible landowners and farmers, vilifying us in newspapers as far away as Victoria, and imply that we set ourselves and the bears up for failure by not having adequate fencing, containment, or by managing our attractants.

Conversely he presents a picture of stewardship that exonerates erroneously any accountability or culpability on behalf of the ministry for the situation or eventual demise of these animals. He admits they were extremely habituated and conditioned bears with reluctance to being scared off by dogs or human activity. Despite this, the decision was made by the ministry to relocate them at a time of year (Oct. 2) when the landscape was in decline and almost devoid of food sources.

This in denial of all the research or data that indicates relocation is seldom successful, particularly late in the season, and even more problematic with habituated problem bears whose movement out of their natural environment has already occurred. With full awareness of the distance these animals traverse and that their main prey had become poultry in Pass Creek it was beyond negligent to bring them to a release site located only 17 km to another community where every household has backyard chickens.

Why were they not flown to the furthest reaches of their home range? Thin’s assertion that the dismal outcome for these animals could have been prevented had we all had electric fencing presumes that we have experienced this problem in the past and should have been more prepared. Since he was never on my property I’m unsure how he determined the inadequate or improper utilization of fencing. He states that they were “surprised and concerned again that people hadn’t taken the effort to put up electric fences.”

I have lived on my property for 40 years. I have had all manner of livestock, small animals, and poultry. In that time I’ve had two incidents involving bears. Both times it was grizzlies, both relocated by the ministry to this area. All other predation or encounters I have experienced in over four decades of living here has been skunks, raccoons, or domestic dogs.

Nothing in my frame of reference indicated a need to do more than I had to ensure the well being of my poultry. My buildings and enclosures were well constructed. They, along with feed buckets, were cleaned, and sanitized less than two weeks prior to the bear’s arrival on my property. My chickens, ducks and geese were not free-ranging. Their feed was stored in metal containers with lids secured within a building and given to them early and often; in quantities that ensure there won’t be leftovers. I didn’t have compost or trees with fruit and all recyclables had long been removed. In the past my arrival or presence has been enough to scare off the predators I outlined above.

Hence why at 10 p.m. on Oct. 30 when I heard my ducks in distress I didn’t hesitate to venture out alone with a flashlight. Unknowingly I walked within 15 feet of the building that contained one of the bears. Blair admits the transmitter collar they placed on the sow indicated within days of the release the ministry was aware they were within the Passmore community and also had reports they were continuing their previous predatory behavior. Where was the moral and ethical obligation to advise and warn other residents of their presence?

Statistically the highest percentage of mauling occurs when sows are protecting their offspring. A close second is protection of a food source. This situation encompassed both these factors and belies his assurance that they were not “a direct threat to humans.” They were among houses on Halloween night with children trick or treating. Our initial call was Wednesday morning but it was not until Friday afternoon that any COs responded. No effort was made by the ministry to initiate communication before, during, or after.

The only communiqué has been the one made by Blair Thin. If he was hoping to advise, educate or advocate in this article he fell horrifically short of the mark. Instead he created dissension, polarization, and further victimized individuals who had already suffered enough from the actions of the ministry he represents. The sarcastic comment of an“$8 chicken” was particularly galling. My loss exceeds $2,000. It will require two years to re-establish my flock to realize a revenue stream. My buildings and fencing need extensive repair. My husband lost two days of work.

We have not been offered an apology or compensation but were subjected to rude, derogatory comments by people who were heartbroken by the death of the bears and held us responsible. In the final analysis the posturing, condemnation, and public shaming in this article to quote Thin was more than just “a little inappropriate.”

SUSAN MILTON

Community Comment

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